Midwest Music Summit 2004

Indianapolis, August 12–14, 2004

Our trip to Indianapolis started with a spectacular traffic jam that left us sitting for nearly three hours, unmoving, waiting on a bridge in a long line of cars. We got out of our car and got to know our fellow travelers, people whom we would normally only acknowledge with a gesture (and not always a pleasant one, at that). We arrived in Indianapolis in time to (a) run into Beatle Bob, (b) be assisted by the kindly bouncer at the Patio who found badges for us, and (c) hunker down to catch the spectacular performance by Ambulance Ltd.

Ambulance hit the stage with little fanfare and no intro, launching into a smooth and effective seven-song set comprised mostly of material from their full-length debut, LP. They were followed by the ascerbic Elefant, who worked up the already-excitable crowd by performing songs from Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid. Manishevitz lead singer Adam Busch throws himself into a performance and for that, I wanted to like them; in the end, though, he comes off a little too “Barenaked-Lady-in Waiting” for my taste. We left shortly before the Sights came on. We had honky-tonkin’ to do, and that meant going to the Hideaway, one of those odd little places hidden back behind the mall, dinky for all but drinking.

We came in just as Archer Avenue was finishing up and Everything Now! took over the “stage.” EN! created a calamity as the lines between audience and band blurred. Suddenly, audience members were shaking tambourines and maracas. The rhythm become infectious as the lyrics to “Trailer Park” were shouted by almost everyone in the club. This unity seemed a fitting way to end the night.

Saturday we found ourselves at the mall. Yes, that is where they held part of the MMS: the Glendale Mall. It actually worked out better than expected, as the mall was pretty empty, and there was something really cool about hearing all that noise bounce off the cavernous walls. It was also fun to watch the little, old mall-walkers stare at the bands with a refined glint of some indignation, while the bands tried their best to keep it clean.

The Patio was once again the place to be on Saturday night…at least for the opening band: Miranda Sound from Columbus, Ohio. Wait, are you suffering déjà vu on this one? So were we. Last year’s MMS was where we first heard Miranda Sound. We were impressed with them then, when they nearly took down Birdy’s stage with their high-energy tactics. Each time we see them, they are even more amazing, and Saturday night was no exception. Miranda split their 30-minute set between new and known. The new material was immediately likable and the known sounded fresh.

We headed to the Red Room for the singer-songwriter showcase. We needn’t have rushed, since the venue had decided to preempt MMS by scheduling a private party. Finally, two-and-a-half hours late, Richard Edwards (of Indy’s Archer Avenue) launched into his set. Even over the still-lingering birthday party crowd, Edwards showed an exceptional range with his music. With mostly good humor, each of the performers had to put up with whistles and oddball requests from the audience (“David, do you know ‘Ring of Fire’?”).

Cameron McGill from Chicago offered what was quite possibly the evening’s most impressive performance. His songs of the lost and the lonely can come across as a bit slight on his CD; in person, he has the persona of troubadour, if a slightly seedy one, banging his foot along with the songs and making the audience feel his music in every way possible. McGill’s lyrics are thoughtful and dreamy, which befits a man who seems a bit lost in his own world. In an amazing display, he picked up his guitar and struck some chords, fed them in to a machine, and looped them. They played on as he strummed another part, looped it, and let it play on. He did this twice more and then, when he had created his “band,” he sat down at his piano and proceeded to play. The effect was beautiful and McGill made it look effortless.

Another performer worth mentioning was Heidi Glück, one-third of Indy band The Pieces. She was charming (with a scarf handmade from the 30th birthday banner) and her material showed a depth and a sense of humor sometimes overshadowed when with her band.

The MMS is growing, and deservedly so. It is becoming the showcase for Indianapolis-based bands who want to be seen and heard, as well as national acts looking for exposure in the Midwest. In the end, the mix works. We came away from Indianapolis with a few new bands we want to follow, and hopefully some of those bands went away with lessons in how to move to that next level.

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